Surrounded by Bellesiles’ acerbic commentary, this is a useful, unsettling bottom-up history of America’s wars that...



Plenty of books record soldiers’ writings and interviews, but this one stands out modestly by sticking mostly to enlisted men.

Throughout history, writes Bellesiles (History/Central Connecticut State Univ.; 1877: America’s Year of Living Violently, 2010), working-class young men have enlisted in search of adventure or a paying job. Those in the United States have been no different except in one respect. From 1775 until the 20th century, Americans tended to consider themselves citizen-soldiers giving up their freedom to fight for liberty. As the author demonstrates, this patriotism was severely tested by the miseries of service; readers will squirm at accounts of ineptitude, racism, intolerance and atrocities. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, soldiers were simply not fed or paid. In the Civil War and World War I, they were ordered forward in suicidal charges, and they knew it. WWII was not quite the “good war” of popular memory, but it enjoyed national support. This absence in Korea and Vietnam devastated morale. The elimination of the draft in 1973 eliminated the citizen-soldier, and civilians now view this all-volunteer force with worshipful admiration. Although now professionals, soldiers remain supersensitive to incompetent leadership and impossible missions. Ironically, civilians glorified fighting men but ignored veterans until they formed their own pressure group. Lobbying by the Grand Army of the Republic produced pensions for Union Civil War veterans, the largest federal budget expense for decades after the 1890s. The GI Bill of Rights remains the sole government entitlement program that no Republican would dare denounce.

Surrounded by Bellesiles’ acerbic commentary, this is a useful, unsettling bottom-up history of America’s wars that emphasizes the soldiers' mistreatment, suffering and injustice.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59558-628-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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